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Wednesday, July 06, 2005

On Becoming More Mexican

I have been listening to a lot of music lately. I mentioned that I bought a 300g hard drive for my laptop which allows me to store tons of new music. For the past year I haven’t been listening to music much and I was beginning to worry about myself. Music has always been a fairly bright-burning passion in my life, as it should be for everyone. I just went through a phase in which music wasn’t an important part of my life. Things are swinging back the other way.

Think back upon all of the music that you have heard in your lifetime. Think about all of the song lyrics that you have memorized. I would imagine that the average person could recite the lyrics to hundreds of popular songs. These songs represent part of a cultural heritage that you share with every other American, or every other English speaking person who also knows this music.

Part of the cultural heritage that I have learned in the course of my adult life is that of Latin America. I am fairly fluent in a lot of the music of the Spanish speaking world. I’ve decided that I need to increase my Mexican cultural literacy. The best way I know to do that is to become more familiar with one of the biggest icons of Mexican popular music, Vicente Fernandez.

I have sung the praises of Vicente Fernandez many times before. He is by far the most popular singer in Mexico. Rancheras are the staple of his music for which he is best known. Rancheras are folk songs that often tell stories, most of which turn out bad for the narrator. There seems to be a sadness that overshadows many of these songs; mostly it is of love gone bad, often ending in violence. Rancheras don’t often have happy endings. I’ll give you an example.

Mi Ranchito

Allá tras de la montaña
Donde temprano se oculta el sol
Quedó mi ranchito triste
Y abandonada ya mi labor.

Allí me pasé los años
y allí encontré mi primer amor
Y fueron los desengaños los que
Mataron a mi ilusión.

Ay…corazón que te vas
Para nunca volver
No me digas adiós,
No te despidas jamás
Si no quieres sentir
De la ausencia el dolor.

He sings of his sad little ranch across the mountain where he worked and loved. Something went to shit, however, and now all he seems to have is pain and loss and this little song to show for it. Life is often hard and never fair in Mexican Rancheras. Some of them turn into outright bloodbaths.

I figure that if I am going to cram a bunch of crappy pop music lyrics into my head, they may as well be Mexican pop music lyrics. For the next few months I’m going to memorize the lyrics to as many Vicente Fernandez songs as I can. You have to set goals for yourself—I learned that at a Tony Robbins seminar.

I have always meant to write a song so while I am at it I am going to write a ranchera. Why do I have the feeling that mine will be the bloodiest ranchera ever written? Why do I suspect that I will write the Pulp Fiction of rancheras? The more I think about this the more entertaining it sounds.

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